How Do Hot Air Balloons Fly | Virgin Balloon Flights
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How Do Hot Air Balloons Fly

… And How Do They Land?

Summer is finally here and with our flying season in full swing, lots of people are seeing our beautiful red balloons in the sky across the UK.

But have you ever wondered just how these giant aircraft are able to float so serenely through the air without an engine in sight?

The answer is simple – they’re full of hot air.

Of course, the best way to experience this is to hop on board one of our fabulous iconic red balloons and enjoy a flight for yourself.

There really is nothing that compares to the experience of a lifetime of floating majestically through the skies with the world at your feet, as though you were held in the air by magic.

And if you’re into the science side of things, this article goes into the mechanics of ballooning in more detail.

But read on below for an overview of how hot air balloons fly – and how they land.

Lift me up

As we all know, hot air rises.

When getting our balloons ready for flight, two giant fans are used to initially inflate the envelope (that’s the red ‘balloon’ bit) with air.

When almost full, the pilot will fire up the burners to heat all that lovely air, causing the balloon to lift upright and pull the basket into its flying position.

Eventually, when the air inside the balloon is hot enough (and once we untie the tethering ropes), it will lift off the ground and float up into the sky with up to 16 excited passengers.

Will we fly over my house?

The short answer is probably not!

Steering a hot air balloon is another way they differ from other aircraft (and most other forms of transportation too).

They can’t be ‘steered’ in the traditional sense but instead float in the direction the wind takes them.

The wind can differ at various altitudes so our fantastic pilots can use their skills to ascend or descend into streams that go a certain way.

But that doesn’t mean the balloon can be turned around and flown in a specific direction – such as over your house.

You might be lucky though. It just all depends on where the wind takes you.

Ups and downs

Usually people see our balloons when they are high in the sky but we do sometimes cause excitement when they are spotted flying over houses and streets, sometimes appearing to be quite low.

It is important to remember that our hot air balloons are huge - about 120 feet tall when fully inflated.

Although it might look like they are ‘skimming the rooftops’, we assure you that our highly experienced pilots know exactly what they are doing and are actually likely to be much higher in the sky than you think.

They also have a range of instruments, including altimeters, which allow them to know the exact height of their balloon to within a couple of centimetres.

Our pilots are some of the best hot air balloonists in the world – that’s why we employed them!

Back down to earth

Wherever they land, our hot air balloons usually cause a lot of excitement due to their huge size and bright, iconic colour.

And we understand why – we still find them an awesome sight and we’ve been doing this for more than 25 years!

Hot air balloons don’t have pre-planned landing spots due to the fact they travel where the wind takes them.

Instead, our pilots will look for a suitable open space and bring their balloon to land in a safe and controlled manner, fully compliant with aviation law.This is usually out in the countryside but sometimes this can be within towns and cities, which is usually when they cause the most excitement.

But if you do see a hot air balloon come down on your local green space or a patch of scrubland as you happen to be driving past, there is nothing to worry about.

Even if the basket tips, bumps or skids a bit when it touches the ground, this is perfectly normal and does sometimes happen.

In fact, if you hang around for the next half hour or so, you will see a group of happy passengers help deflate the balloon before enjoying a champagne toast to mark the end of their trip.

The 4x4 or pick-up trucks that arrive shortly after landing are simply the ‘retrieval crew’ come to take the passengers and balloon back to the original launch site.

So there you have it – that’s how hot air balloons launch, fly and land.

We love hearing from people who have spotted our balloons, whether in the sky or coming in to land, so if you have any photographs, feel free to post them on our Facebook page or tweet them to us here.

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